Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Passive (Involuntary) Smoking


Nonsmoking children who live in homes with smokers are involuntarily exposed to cigarette smoke. This situation is called "passive smoking."

The smoke comes from two sources: secondhand smoke and side stream smoke. Second hand smoke is exhaled by the smoker. Side stream smoke rises from the end of a burning cigarette.

Most of the tobacco smoke in a room is side stream smoke. It contains two to three times more harmful chemicals than secondhand smoke because it does not pass through the cigarette filter. A child in a very smoky room for one hour with several smokers may inhale as many bad chemicals as he would by actually smoking 10 or more cigarettes.

Harmful effects of passive smoking on children

Passive smoking is especially hazardous to children who have asthma. Exposure to smoke causes more severe asthma attacks, more emergency room visits, and more hospital admissions. These children are also less likely to outgrow their asthma.

Children who live in a house with a smoker develop more respiratory infections. Their symptoms are also more severe and last longer than those of children who live in a smoke-free home.

The impact of passive smoke is worse during the first five years of life, when children spend most of their time with their parents. The more smokers there are in a household and the more they smoke, the more severe a child's symptoms may be.

Passive smoking may worsen conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, laryngitis, influenza, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, sinus infections, and may even increase the likelihood of crib death (SIDS).

How to protect your child from passive smoking

Give up smoking. You can quit smoking if you get help. Sign up for a stop-smoking class or program. Call your local American Lung Association or American Cancer Society office to obtain self-help materials. If you don't want your child to smoke, set a good example.

Never smoke in your home. Some parents find it very difficult to give up smoking, but all parents can change their smoking habits. Smoke only when you are away from home. If you have to smoke when you are home, do so only outside.

Avoid leaving your child with someone who smokes. Ask about smoking when you are looking for day care centers or babysitters. If your child has asthma, this safeguard is crucial.

Last Edited: December 13, 2016
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